Five years ago, John and Jane embarked on their dream of owning a business.
They did all the right things to get started, from creating a business plan to hiring the right people. They went to networking meetings, joined their local chamber, placed ads, started using social media and created an impressive website. But their business didn’t take off.
Those basic activities just didn’t set them apart from their competition. John and Jane knew they had a great business. But the lackluster results were frustrating and one thing was clear. The business wasn’t growing fast enough and they needed to change what they were doing to get better results.
They needed to take a few steps back and ask several important questions:
Knowing all too well that time and money are limited resources, they had to work smarter. They reexamined what it was that originally excited them about the business so they could recapture the drive and vision to move forward.
We’ll tell you what John and Jane actually did and the results they achieved.
Planning is critical, even when life is unpredictable
A day in the life of a small business owner is complex. Facing the challenges of running a business while continually seeking new growth opportunities often requires an energy above and beyond that of a "normal" work schedule.
How does an owner creatively tackle new growth opportunities while addressing the challenges of day-to-day issues and unpredictable “fire drills” that come along?
How do you move from reacting to constant unpredictability to following a standard business process and rhythm?
Below you'll find solid strategies and tactics to answer these questions for you and your business.
To Start - Focus Your Efforts
Ask yourself – what are the big levers that drive revenue to your business? Once you do that analysis, you may find it easier to identify which activities can move those levers. Then decide to focus on one or two activities – no more than that – and devote your energies there.
If you’re a professional services business, you’ll want to understand which networking organizations allow you to develop deeper relationships with members who will not only become clients, but who have the leverage to become a great referral source for you. If you’re a restaurateur, you’ll want to get in front of a lot of people who are likely to become patrons, so joining a Chamber of Commerce may be a good option.
To set yourself apart from other members, get involved. Over time, strong relationships develop and, as members get to know you, they will direct more traffic your way.
Affiliating with local religious organizations may provide great exposure for small business owners. Churches, synagogues and mosques often hold fundraising and community events providing those who sponsor a table or booth a way to gain low-cost exposure for their business.
By collecting business cards or having booth visitors provide their name, address and email at the event, you will be able to grow your mailing list. When they provide their contact information, they are “opting in” to receive marketing information from you – translating into warm leads. Be a tactful advocate for your business; look for ways to incorporate your business in serving others. It builds goodwill and great community exposure.
Creating partnerships with other local merchants who cater to the same segments can be a powerful addition to your marketing efforts. Businesses which cater to health or lifestyle – for example, spas, fitness locations, hair salons, massage therapists, and so on – may make good partners. Each business partner can hand out the other business’ flyers or business cards, which builds each company’s business without a significant advertising expense.
Many communities, large and small, host a variety of events over the course of the year. Get active in the planning and participation of those events that attract the customers you are targeting. Many businesses just put up a booth and expect business to happen. To get the most out of your tradeshow or event investment, you need to think through a pre-show strategy on how to invite potential customers to your booth and what you want to accomplish with the precious time you have with each visitor. Importantly, have an “after show” strategy for follow up to really grow your business.
Back to John and Jane – What Did They Do and How Did They Fare?
John and Jane realized that their “broad brush” marketing approach of casting a wide net to win potential customers was largely ineffective and inefficient so they redefined their customer target to take better aim at more viable prospects.
They surveyed their customers, asking “What is it that makes you enjoy doing business with us?” The feedback helped them reexamine their value proposition, revising it to “zero in” on what customers told them they do best – and the unique value they provide.
Further refining and simplifying their positioning, they struck gold – making their unique selling proposition easy to articulate, giving them a more polished way to say: “Here’s why you should do business with us.” Their new message was then consistently used through all communications including signage, advertising, emails and business cards. Additionally, they reinforced the message internally in all employee communications.
John and Jane used those first exercises as a framework on which to reenergize their efforts. Then they committed to take their message direct to their customers through community involvement.
Rather than simply join the local Chamber of Commerce, they committed to getting very involved. They joined committees and became ambassadors. Those actions increased their visibility and their company’s exposure, almost immediately generating new business as fellow business owners realized the value they brought to the organization.
Through the chamber, they began to develop a solid rhythm for their business. Co-marketing partnerships were created with fitness locations and with spas, as they were a good fit with their business model. Then John and Jane decided to host a major event themselves, encouraging their new partners and fellow merchants to participate.
It was a 5K run set up as a fund raiser for the local school district. As organizers, they located the starting and finish lines right in front of their store to gain additional exposure for their business. Their marketing partners co-sponsored the event and brought their collective resources together to help with staffing and logistics. Other local merchants got involved, bought exhibit space, advertising, and signage that attracted attention throughout their community.
On the day of the event, 400 runners showed up to participate. Friends and family cheered them on. But it was the increased traffic to the store that made it a worthwhile event – not only for John and Jane, but also for nearby merchants. The now-annual event has just completed its 4th year – with a record turnout of over 1,200 runners. The event worked well – well beyond expectations as a fundraiser - and John and Jane had a record year of profitability!
What they learned along the way is that careful planning is important, but so is constantly evaluating what you are doing as a business, trying new things, and making changes to your plans when needed. Whether “brick and mortar,” online, or a home-based business, it just takes commitment, focus, and a little imagination to kick start your success.
Whether you’ve been in business for years – or just starting out – you’ve got a great opportunity to grow your venture without breaking your budget.
Just set up a plan that’s right for you – and get out there and do it!
Need more ideas? There is a wealth of resources available by visiting Verizon.com My Business. In the e-Learnings pages you will find info about the next webinar, an archive of past webinars, or you can learn from small business experts with helpful advice in our blog and e-Newsletters. Take advantage of My Rewards to earn points for free merchandise or the Verizon Discount Program to receive discount pricing from national brands such as FedEx, Office Depot and many others.
We’re Verizon Small Business – here to help you be as successful as possible, 24/7! Visit us at verizon.com/my business.
Other useful resources for ideas on how to start, manage, and grow your business:
*Based on a true story
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